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by JESSICA MOLL & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & B & lt;/span & ack in 1983, the first Inland Craft Warnings sale might have seemed like a small boat on high seas, when seven artists set out their wares in the Glover Mansion, looking for a local market for their work. But 23 years later, Inland Crafts 2006 has shed any sense of peril from its name. The 93 artisans who will board the Convention Center cruise ship this weekend were culled from an extremely competitive jury process; from throughout the Northwest they come with a dazzling array of vessels, vases, kaleidoscopes, puzzles, lanterns, birdhouses, horns, clothing, jewelry, furniture, sculptures, photography and paintings.





The sheer quantity of exquisite objects gathered under one roof is enough to glaze the eyes of even the most inveterate collector; for the uninitiated, it can be downright daunting. But the organizers of the Inland Northwest's premier juried craft exhibition have honed the art of making their event accessible, interactive -- and educational.





The $6 admission is good for the entire weekend, and a devoted craft lover could easily spend all three days admiring the work. "It takes a lot of time and energy - 90 artists is a lot to look at," says Louise Kodis, one of the seven founding artists. That's where the showcase comes in. An innovation this year, the 40-foot display at the entrance to the exhibit hall will replicate a gallery setting with its white walls, excellent lighting, and pedestals. But rather than squeezing in as many pieces as possible, the showcase will highlight only a manageable selection, with the display changing every three hours or so. "This is a way to focus on what you want to go see," Kodis explains.





"Lots of times, people like something but don't know how to use it, or how to wear it -- it's hard to see that in the booth," says Spokane clay and mixed-media artist Gina Freuen. A longtime participant and organizer of the exhibition, Freuen hopes that the showcase will spark ideas about how people can display and cherish pieces in their own homes.





Live models -- another innovation this year -- will also help people envision possibilities for their purchases. Kodis, along with Spokane Arts Commission Director Karen Mobley (on Friday and Saturday) and actress Kate Vita (on Sunday), will roam the aisles modeling "wearable art": blouses, jackets, vests, scarves, dresses, hats, handbags and jewelry. They'll change clothes and accessories every half hour or so, and carry the booth numbers of the artists whose work they are wearing. And don't worry about missing them in the crowd. Besides the distinctiveness of their outfits, "None of us are bashful women," Kodis remarks. "We will be noticed!"





One of the best ways to get the most out of the exhibition is to attend the artist demonstrations held each day -- it's possible to spend the entire weekend watching artists creating baskets, jewelry and harps, throwing pots on the potters' wheel, burning designs into gourds, and tinting photographs. "All these people are articulate and can talk about what they're doing while they're doing it," Kodis says. "It is fascinating to watch the gesture of the arm, to be right up close to the texture of the material."





On Saturday morning, furniture builder Tom Jahns will give a slide show and lecture about his creative process, which begins with a walk in the woods near the Olympic National Forest and ends with a chair, bench, bed, or table -- any of which could still be growing when it shows up at the exhibit.





And every hour on the hour, you can stop by Freuen's booth, where she will have her hands in clay. After a busy summer and fall, she looks forward to starting and finishing pieces each day. "I'm going to demonstrate and get work done!" she says.





Almost a third of the artists are new this year. "We used to grandfather artists in," Freuen explains, but because of all the strong new applicants, "we were forced to start jurying everyone every year." Among the 15 jewelers selected from 75 applicants is Idaho bead worker Jan Bittenbender, whose glass bead and precious gem creations have an antique, Renaissance feel. Hans Christensen, another newcomer this year, starts his process with blank white silk, stretching it like a canvas and hand-painting it before sewing it into a garment.





Of course, not all of us can afford to buy a one-of-a-kind garment this year, but there will be treasures for modest budgets, too. Whether it's a mug or a bracelet or a belt, every artist has what Freuen calls "their bread and butter work, something that will pay for their gas, their hotel room." And along with the superior durability of handcrafted work, the connection you make with a local artist will make every piece something to cherish for years to come.





Inland Craft Warnings takes over the Group Health Exhibition Hall at the new Spokane Convention Center, 334 Spokane Falls Blvd., this weekend. Hours are Friday, Nov. 10, from noon- 8 pm; Saturday, Nov. 11, from 10 am-6 pm; and Sunday, Nov. 12, from 10 am-5 pm. Admission is $6 for the full weekend. Call 466-2973.

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